How much difference does mastering really make? [with audio]
The importance of managing configurations and preferences in professional work
The professional way to make sure your mics are connected correctly
The new battlefield in the loudness war?
Q: "Why is the signal from my microphone low in level and noisy?"
Who should be responsible for the fade at the end of a song - the producer, mix engineer or mastering engineer?
Setting microphone preamplifier gain to achieve both adequate headroom and a good signal-to-noise ratio
How to record or amplify the melodica or any unfamiliar instrument
The difference between minimum-phase and linear-phase EQ on transient signals such as snare drum
How to set a graphic equalizer
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Here's an interesting experiment... Go to a website where ordinary musicians and home-studio producers can sell their work to the public. Take a listen to sample tracks and previews. Typically you will easily find work of amazing professionalism. But will you buy? Will the general public buy?
The problem is that achieving professional-sounding work is seen as the objective by many home recording studio owners. True professionalism is hard to achieve, and when you get there, then it seems that some kind of laurel wreath of victory is warranted. Yes, wear it with pride, but you're not done yet. You have only made it to the first rung of the ladder.
I have been thinking long and hard about what it is that the general public really want from their music. Music that they will be willing to pay for. I'll certainly pay good money for a piece of music that is beautiful. Anything by Sade will fit the bill for me, for instance. Adele, also for instance, seems to fit the bill for a younger audience.
But music doesn't have to be beautiful to sell. If a track is exciting, then it can sell well too. It doesn't have to be beautiful, and in fact quite a number of ugly-duckling recordings have sold massively simply because they generate excitement.
Grass roots beauty/excitement
I was playing with a new compression plug-in the other day on a drum track. "Wow, that's an exciting sound!" I thought. I could tweak the settings from hardly any difference at all, through a little bit exciting, to really exciting, to it's-all-too-much-to-handle. It wasn't hard to find a sound that really was over the top.
What I found, which of course I knew already but hadn't thought about recently, is that there is a point where the excitement is just at the right level. But then there's a point just beyond that where the sound is really exciting!
It occurred to me that perhaps I have myself concentrated too much on achieving professional sounds from all of my instruments and vocals, and maybe I should be a little more adventurous and try adding excitement at the recording stage, to each instrument and to each vocal. Of course there are more ways to do this than with compression, but my feeling is that if excitement is added, or at least considered, in every stage of production, the result should be a really exciting song at the end of the recording, mixing and mastering process.
I could of course apply the same logic to a song that I wanted to sound beautiful. If the multitrack recording is packed out with beautiful sounds, how would it be possible to fail?
New punk recording
I was about to summarize that professionalism should be taken as a given, and excitement or beauty added on top of that. But then I thought back to the punk era where many musicians - or should it be 'musicians'? - could hardly play their instruments. But boy they made an exciting sound.
So maybe music production has gotten a little too professionalism these days. Perhaps we need to get back to basics. Exciting sounds or beautiful musicianship, and who cares about a few rough edges?
If anyone would like to send in their new punk recordings, I'll be happy to feature the best in these pages.
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